A/N: Way overdue. I am ashamed. I worked all summer and am now back in college. I finally found some downtime to start writing again and decided to start two new fics to work on as well as this one.
...What have I done?
Chapter summary: In which Nyma hates this, Thace isn't sure what to make of this, Lotor's interested in this, and Lance is not okay with this...yet.
Whatever she'd been expecting, this hadn't been it. She should have expected worse. She didn't.
She couldn't scream any longer. She couldn't talk either. Her throat was too raw. Thus, when the Soldier came into her cell, she didn't even bother to acknowledge him.
"I realize you can't talk," he said, "but I need to ask you a few questions."
Well, she couldn't talk, but she could spit just fine apparently. The Soldier didn't wipe the spit away, but his expression did soften minutely.
"I guess I deserve that," he muttered just loud enough for her to hear. He straightened his back and clasped his hands behind him. After a click glance over his shoulder, he sighed. "I can't talk long," he said. "But you know the protocol here."
"You tricked us," he said, strolling slowly around the wrack she was strapped to. "You and your partner contacted us with a trade. The Champion for a clean record. We sent a battlecruiser to the designation meet and- what do you know? -no one was there." He stopped just in her left peripheral vision. "You wasted the resources of the Galra Empire and diverted attention from an attack on Balmera 95-Vox that could have benefited from the presence of that battlecruiser."
The leaned in close to her ear and hissed, "You and your despicable partner are indirectly responsible for the deaths of 1,000 Galra lives at the hands of Voltron. Come to find out the Champion is a member of this Voltron team; the very same Champion you and your partner supposedly had in custody."
The Soldier stepped back so he stood in front of her, his cold yellow eyes glowing in the dimness of the room. "Prince Lotor himself saw the Champion and the Sentinel together as part of the Voltron team. I doubt it was a coincidence that you were found on Meserie at the same time the Sentinel escaped Lotor with the Champion's help. That makes you a traitor to the Galra Empire." Those golden eyes narrowed dangerously. "That penalty for treason is death."
She snorted, licking the yellow-ish blood dribbling from her nose.
"I though the Trader's Guild doesn't involve itself with politics of any world or people," the Soldier continued.
Again, she just snorted and let her head loll back against the metal gurney.
The Soldier bit his lip, dipping his chin slightly. "Can you hold out for another cycle?" he asked softly.
She frowned, coughing when she tried to talk. She settled for a disgruntled stare.
"You'll be interviewed by Prince Lotor shortly," the Soldier declared louder. "You might want to start deciding what's more important to you: your life or your loyalty."
She clamped her mouth shut and swallowed. Her lidless blue eyes glared at the Galra subcommander.
"But if someone else comes in before he gets here," the Soldier added quietly, "then maybe you should trust them." He lifted an eyebrow and lifted his chin. "Still no answer?" he said in his usual volume.
He casually stepped closer to her, deliberately placing his body between her and the door. She glanced down briefly at her right breast, clenching her jaw just in time for a powerful, purple, right hook. If the hand happened to slip into her shirt and pull a certain something out of it, then all the better for it. All the same, it still felt good to spit the excess blood at the Soldier's face.
"I'll remember that," he said, palming the little item away.
She wasn't ready for the next punch, but the blackness was a welcome relief.
Frak, that felt good. He'd wanted to do that since that bastard partner of hers first contacted him to trade the Champion. After Ulaz worked so hard to get him out of here, the crazy Traders were going to put the Champion right back in. Ulaz had been one of the best deep cover operatives the Blade of Marmora had. It was for that reason alone that Ulaz hadn't been killed for betraying the Blade and acting on his own.
Ulaz thought freeing the Champion was worth it. Thace may not have understood it, but he trusted his friend's instincts. For those backstabbing, traitorous traders to do something that very nearly cost a member of the Blade to lose his life was unacceptable. Bastards.
He took a moment to take a slow, deep breath to calm down and compose himself before leaving the holding cell. He was definitely still furious, but unlike the traders, he wasn't going turns on friends. Although, he thought, feeling the item he'd taken from Nyma, he certainly hadn't expected to get something out of that little session. Maybe this would be useful. Hopefully.
The Druid standing outside the interrogation room was answer enough. The masked being regarded Thace silently before tilting its hooded head and holding out its hand. It must have seen him take the item. If it saw that, then it may have seen something it shouldn't have. But then again, it wasn't a bad thing to have informants. Besides, Commander Prorok was the one who actually sealed the deal with Rolo and Nyma to trade for the Champion.
Wouldn't it be inconvenient if a piece of evidence handed over by a loyal soldier of the Galra Empire disappeared under the watch of a certain inept commander already suspected of mishandling the Balmera 95-Vox incident?
Obediently, Thace placed the item in the Druid's hand. "I found this in the prisoner's shirt," he said mildly. "I'm not exactly sure what it is, but considering the prisoner was attempting to conceal it, I think it would be wise to turn this over to the prince."
The masked creature made no move to nod, but it did close its fingers over the object and hold it up to the many eye slits in the mask. It was a small, smooth fluorite crystal that gleamed blue, green, and purple in the purple light of the battlecruiser. Thace couldn't even begin to figure out what use the crystal could have. It didn't glow with power like the control crystals onboard the Galra spacecraft or in their weapons. It was also too small to be store a great deal of information. Even if it had been the correct size, it wasn't cut correctly for maximum storage use, either. Why would the frelled Trader has something like this with her?
"Is the prince still in his chambers?" Thace asked.
As expected, the Druid didn't answer verbally. However, it did nod. Fighting back a sigh of relief, Thace nodded.
"Good," he said simply.
Without another word, he turned on his heel and made his way to the prince's quarters. He still wasn't fond of the thought of turning over what could be vital intel involving the rebellion to the Druids, but he could work around it. He had no choice. It was for this reason, and this reason alone, that he felt relief when the Druid fell into step beside him. If the Druid intended to turn the crystal over to the prince right now, then that gave Thace another chance to work this turn of events to his favor.
Unfortunately, Druids were not the best companions under any circumstance so the march to Prince Lotor's chambers felt like it took longer than usual. At least when they finally arrived, the prince's door opened readily.
"Enter," the prince commanded from inside.
"Your Majesty," Thace said, bowing at the waist. He noticed with interest that the Druid at his side mirror his movements. Straightening, Thace stepping into the room, the Druid by his side, and was mildly surprised to see the prince pacing back and forth. He frowned. "Your Majesty," he said, "has something happened?"
"He found them before me," Lotor growled furiously.
"Who found whom, my lord?" Thace asked in confusion.
"My obsessed idiot of a father, without ever leaving his frell-forsaken-fortress, managed to find Voltron before me!" Lotor shouted, aiming a burning glare at the subcommander that had even the Druid shrinking back. "Frak that bastard to the Void!"
Thace hesitated. Lotor's anger was notoriously dangerous to friend and foe alike. He glanced at the Druid who surprising met his gaze in return. For once in his lifetime, Thace actually felt more comfortable with the creature by his side.
"May I ask how you know this?" Thace asked.
"The Emperor contacted me and informed me in person," Lotor hissed. "I've been ordered to drop everything and head to the coordinates he gave me."
"He isn't going himself?"
The prince sneered. "He is. It seems I'm just closer. The first time he contacts me directly in turns and it's to send me on a wild wake angel chase after his latest obsession."
Thace wisely held his tongue upon hearing the irony in that statement.
"Perhaps I should wait to tell you about the prisoner?" Thace asked carefully.
Immediately, he had Lotor's attention. "On the contrary," the Galra prince said, pausing his pacing to face the subcommander fully. He crossed his arms and narrowed his golden eyes. "Tell me everything."
Taking a deep, steadying breath, Thace nodded adjusting his stance so he stood at attention. "The prisoner didn't say much of use when I interrogated her," he reported. "However, I was able to take this from her." He gestured to the Druid who stiffened before extending its hand, revealing the fluorite shard. "I'm unsure of its purpose, but she went to great lengths to conceal it so I assumed you would want to study it yourself."
"It contains a strand of quintessence," the Druid said, startling both Thace and the prince.
"Is it the prisoner's quintessence?" Lotor asked, taking the shard from the Druid's hand.
The masked creature shook its head. "No," it answered firmly. "I was not able to recognize the owner. It is…" it tilted its head as if perplexed, "unlike any quintessence I have ever felt before."
"Is it now?" Lotor murmured, turning the shard so it caught the light. "Have you gotten anything else of use from the prisoner?" he said, lowering the shard to study the Druid.
"I have not, my lord," Thace said, drawing the prince's gaze. He lowered his chin in respect. "But I do know her."
"Do you, now?" Lotor purred, his eyes narrowed and a flash of teeth gleamed in the dim light.
"Yes, your highness," Thace replied. "Commander Prorok sometimes used the prisoner and her partner as informants." He hesitated. "It was them who informed the Commander that Voltron was heading to Balmera 95-Vox."
For a moment, the prince said nothing. His eyes, however, flickered back to the crystal shard in his hand, fiddling with it absently in thought. Humming, Lotor turned and made his way to the view port.
"If your highness permits," Thace said, stepping forward, "this could be an opportunity. If we arrive early, then you could claim both Voltron and perhaps even the Sentinel. At the very least, you could use Voltron as leverage the draw the Sentinel out if he isn't there."
"I'm aware," Lotor said in a flat tone.
"You believe the Emperor is testing you," the Druid said.
Startled, Thace stared at the Druid with wide eyes. If Emperor Zarkon was testing Lotor, it meant one of two things: Zarkon was preparing the prince for something greater or, more likely, he didn't trust Lotor to not undermine his authority. That put the prince in a tight spot. If Lotor acted on the emperor's orders, then he couldn't hide his prize without revealing his hand. On the flip side, if Lotor didn't act on the emperor's orders, he would be seen as a disobedient child. Neither outcome was optimal to anyone's goals.
"Do you need to go in person?" Thace ventured. "Or could a representative go in your place?"
The Galran prince turned to the subcommander, silently waiting for him to continue. Thace chose his words carefully. "Could you gather your generals and have them continue your work here while you attend to the emperor's command?" Thace asked. "Or the other way around?"
"As much as I'd love to, no," the prince said. He flipped the crystal shard carelessly into the air before catching it. "Did you learn anything else of interest from the prisoner?"
Thace acknowledged the abrupt change of subject for what it was and bowed his head respectfully. "Nothing of use," he admitted. "She admitted to meeting someone who matches the Sentinel's appearance to conduct a trade, but nothing more. Once the trade was complete, they parted ways."
Lotor hummed thoughtfully, his eyes settling on the silent Druid.
"The subcommander speaks true," the Druid said softly. "We could use more persuasive methods, if you wish, bu-"
"No," Lotor said, cutting of the Druid's words. "If my father wants to pick a fight with the Traders Guild, let him. I won't. I'll keep this," he held up the shard, "but we don't need to keep her. Besides," he added thoughtfully, "she's more useful to us out there than in here. Release her on the next planet we pass."
"Vrepit sa, sir," Thace said, offering the prince a salute.
"Is there anything else, your highness?" the Druid asked once subcommander Thace left Lotor's rooms.
The prince hummed. "Send word to Ezor," he said. "Tell her I have someone I want her to follow."
"That will be all," Lotor said, turning away from the Druid in a clear dismissal.
He waited until he heard the door slide shut, enjoying the silence. He truly enjoyed Meserie. It was such an organized chaos. But this was also one of the most powerful worlds under the Trader's Guild's control. If the Druids had bothered to inform him of the possible suspect involved in helping the Sentinel escape instead of acting first, then he wouldn't be in this mess. As things were, the Druids had captured a Trader in full view of the public on Meserie of all places.
This wouldn't sit well with the Trader's Guild. With any luck, a few good words in the right ears would help soothe some feathers. Lotor had no desire to be on the butt end of the Trader's Guild's ire. They were a powerful force to be reckoned with. A neutral force, but a powerful force nonetheless. They refused to actively be involved in interplanetary politics and were notoriously vicious to anyone who attempted to involve interplanetary politics. Politics were bad for business.
Lotor enjoyed his steady trade deal with that witch Merla. She was a frell of a Trader and always kept her word. Granted, she may not keep it in the way anyone expected her to, but she always kept it. If Merla learned some of Lotor's people had captured a Trader, if she didn't know already, she was a conniving witch like that, then Lotor wouldn't enjoy his next few trades. He would have to give more than he received.
Oh well. He would worry about that later. In the meantime, he studied the crystal shard in his hand. It was fluorite, if he wasn't mistaken. The murky blue-green of the crystal shimmered dully like viewing sunlight from underwater. The streak of intruding purple just added a nice touch of darkness.
If the Druid was right and there was a strand of quintessence trapped in there, then that left a number of questions. Why was it there? How did it get there? To whom did it belong? And was this even worth bothering to find out?
He closed his fingers around it, closed his eyes, and reached. Fluorite wasn't a crystal he worked typically, but that didn't mean he couldn't feel it. Instead of touching the trapped quintessence directly, he felt around it. Whoever had bound the quintessence into the crystal knew what they were doing. The thin thread of quintessence wove with the crystal until it was as much a part of the shard as the shard was a part of it. Fascinating.
Lovely colors and master craftsmanship. He would be interested to know to whom this originally belonged. But right now, he had a hunt to begin.
Lance shuddered, rubbing his arms when the hairs on his skin stood on end. Goosebumps, the Humans called the sensation. Such an odd word for such a strange feeling. He wasn't cold so much as… What was the word? Disconcerted? Unnerved? Unsettled?
He didn't know. All he knew for certain was that something was wrong. Nyma still wasn't responding. He tried to convince himself that she was in the middle of a trade, or asleep, or too busy to answer. But somehow, he had the nagging feeling that it wasn't as simple as that. He bit his lip, licking it when he caught himself, and bit his thumbnail instead.
He shuddered again and for a very brief moment, he almost felt like something was touching him. But as quickly as the though occurred to him, the feeling went away. Had something happened to Nyma? Was she alright? What about Rolo? They weren't captured by Lotor, were they? They'd been so careful to stay out of the prince's sights. Where did they mess up? Did they mess up?
Lance jumped and probably squeaked too, if the wide eyes and surprised quirk of Keith's lips were anything to go by.
"I didn't know you could do that," Keith said, wonder coloring his words.
"Do what?" Lance asked suspiciously, not really sure if he wanted to know the answer.
"Squeak," Keith replied. The grin stretching across his face was all teeth and made Lance both uncomfortable and hungry.
"I don't," he said.
Keith smirked. "And yet…" He let the words trail off suggestively.
It took a lot more self-control to fight back a smile than Lance would willingly admit.
"No luck yet?" Keith asked, his smile fading followed quickly by Lance's.
Keith pursed his lips, his ears drooping lower in disappointment. "What do you want to do?" he asked.
"Continue with the plan," Lance said, tucking the carnelian shard into his vest pocket. "We can't worry about something that may be nothing when we could and should be worrying about something that is definitely something."
"I'll let Coran know we're ready to leave, then," Keith said. He reached out and brushed the backs of his fingers against the torn eye scale, smiling when Lance's eyelids droops and his breath fluttered. "I'll be back," he said.
Lance mourned the loss of Keith's touch. He was growing used to the odd jumble of emotions and sensations he got from his lover whenever Keith touch his scales, particularly the damaged one. Every time he felt himself slipping closer and closer to a decision he never thought he'd have to make, and wasn't sure he was ready to make. But then, was one ever ready to bind themselves so permanently like that?
Did he want to know the answer to that?